BERLIN - For much of the opening two weeks of camp, most of Dominik Kubalik's focus has been re-adjusting his game to the smaller North American ice than what he's played on for nearly his whole life, including the last five years in the Czech Republic and Switzerland after two seasons in the OHL as a teen.
But for a couple days, at least, he's back on the larger sheet as the Blackhawks get set to face Eisbären Berlin in their final exhibition game of the 2019 preseason.
"Yeah, it's kind of weird trying to get used to it and then (for) a couple days here you're coming back to the big ice," Kubalik said of the ironic twist to an otherwise strong preseason for him in Chicago. "Obviously it's a little bit easier because I'm already used to it, but yeah, it's weird."
Nearly 15 feet wider and a yard shorter in length than the standard NHL rink, the ice at Mercedes-Benz Arena in Berlin presents an interesting challenge for the final tune-up before the official start to the season on Friday in Prague, Czech Republic.
"All that space in the corners, I think it's tougher to pin guys against the boards," said Carl Dahlstrom, who also grew up on the larger sheet in his native Sweden. "At the same time, it's not as dangerous, (just) keep them on the outside. On the smaller ice, a shot from the corner might get dangerous but over here it's usually a lot more safe. Especially in the corners, around the the blue lines, it's going to be tougher staying closer to guys, that's the big thing."
"It kind of goes both ways," Patrick Kane added. "At first, you would just assume that it would be more fun for a skilled player playing on the big ice, but it's bigger and it's further away form the net in certain areas. Sometimes what you think would be a good shot really isn't because it's different angles and different positioning on the ice, but it's fun. I think it's always fun to play in new spots and in different atmospheres and on different size ice sheets."
Regardless of the adjustment, Sunday's international exhibition serves as more than just a cool experience for the Blackhawks.
Preseason finales are usually hit-and-miss affairs when it comes to intensity, but facing an opponent that likely wants to put forth a good showing, the intensity should mirror the increased size of the ice - especially with Chicago on the heels of a 6-0 preseason loss to the Capitals on Wednesday some 4,500 miles aways at the United Center.
"I think the energy in the building and the opposition, their mentality, that's going to bring the best out of us," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "I hope we're going to use that energy to perform well and that could be a very good dress rehearsal for us, especially when we weren't very happy with our last performance. We didn't have any energy, we didn't have any pace to our game, I thought we were sloppy with the puck and we want to get that good feeling back."